I've been drawn, lately, to a bunch of articles and responses and other articles on matters of tzniut. I think I've been especially drawn to discussions of tzniut since I got married and started covering my hair because I had forgotten how difficult tzniut can be and how hard it is to be restricted in dress and behavior. There is so much I have become accustomed to doing in terms of tzniut that I don't notice it in the same way anymore. But as I experimented with shaitels, falls, hats, hats with falls, headbands with falls, bandanas,and scarves, I didn't look like myself and I missed my own hair. It was—and still is—hard every time I put something on top of my head and tuck up my hair.
What's often missing in discussions of tzniut is how intensely personal these decisions are—no matter what the actual decision. Find me someone who observes tzniut in any form and you'll find a girl who's stood before a mirror in a dressing room pulling up a collar, tugging down a hem, trying to convince herself that she can make a dress work. You'll find a girl who stares longingly in the mirror in pants or a tank top or uncovered hair before putting on layers and layers of clothing to leave her house.
And knowing how personal these things are, how difficult it can be to wear a Kiki Riki under the dress that looks so awesome sleeveless and looks so stupid with a shirt underneath or to pull on a denim skirt when you know every single one of your classmates will be wearing jeans or to wrap that bandana around your head when you're having a good hair day (and good shaitel days? Those don't really happen), I am not prepared for any person to tell me how I should be practicing tzniut.
I wince at the memory of being told by a woman I didn't know in a public place that I was being inappropriate by kissing my husband or being told by others that our hand-holding and hugging should be kept in the bedroom. When this happens, I want to shout, "I am wearing someone else's hair over my better hair. I am wearing a skirt with four safety pins that keep on popping open and scratching the back of my legs to close the slit that goes above my knee. I go to the beach wearing more clothes than the rest of the beach-goers combined. Isn't it enough for you?"
Which is to say I work hard at being tzanua, but I have made decisions about what to do and what not to do. I wear red nail polish and open-toe shoes. I wear college sweatshirts that shout Columbia across my chest (to be fair, I'm a small person and Columbia is a long word, so what you often see across my chest is "Lumbi"). I show the front of my own hair when wearing scarves or hats or my fall. I kiss my husband in public. I have friends who have made very different decisions about all these things, and I don't think they're wrong or that I am right.
That's not to say I don't think there are halachic standards. I do. And I follow them. But I recognize that there are many different interpretations and that just because I am doing what I think I need to be doing does not mean what I am doing is right or right for everyone. I fully recognize both the diversity of totally acceptable halachic opinions and the need to find a place that works personally for each individual. If there's one thing every discussion of tzniut needs to have, it's more tolerance and understanding of others. Because, dude, this stuff is hard enough without having other people breathing down your back and telling you your decisions are wrong.